Actions

Work Header

Stop One Heart From Breaking

Chapter Text

The only question on Jaskier’s mind as the auction attendants tug him out of line and down to the sales desk is, I wonder how much this is going to hurt? That it is going to hurt is a given; alphas like hurting omegas, and ruined ones like Jaskier, available for a few coins at auction, are safer targets than unflawed omegas whose parents might possibly object to permanent damage. Jaskier hasn’t even bothered to pay attention to who was bidding on him, since it’s hard to predict how dangerous an alpha is just by looking at them, and making assumptions, Jaskier has learned, is just another way to be horribly disappointed later. He’s spent the auction staring off over the rooftops, trying to compose a song about the way the clouds move, comparing their ever-changing shapes to the transitory nature of a ruined omega’s life.

Though perhaps he should have been paying attention, he realizes, as the attendants deposit him - kneeling, of course - in front of his new owner, and Jaskier looks up (he’s never learned to be properly deferential, no matter how hard his previous alphas tried to beat it into him) and meets golden, slitted, utterly inhuman eyes. His new alpha is a witcher.

Well, fuck.

Jaskier has wondered, occasionally, how long he’ll have before he ends up with the alpha who will kill him, and now evidently he’s got his answer. A witcher will doubtless be even less patient with Jaskier’s...everything than any human alpha, and can hit a lot harder, too. Huh. Well, it’s been a pretty damn shitty life so far, but Jaskier is rather astonished to discover that death still does hold some fear for him. He doesn’t want to die - doesn’t want his broken body to be left on the side of some nameless road, tossed aside like so much garbage.

What he wants doesn’t particularly matter, of course. An omega’s desires don’t, as a general rule.

The witcher tugs Jaskier to his feet - surprisingly gently, all things considered; his grip isn’t even hard enough to bruise - and turns to lead the way out of the square, not bothering to look back and check if Jaskier is following. Jaskier is. He’s not quite fool enough to try to run away from a witcher - doesn’t fancy being beaten senseless any sooner than he has to be. And he’s maybe a little grateful that the witcher didn’t decide to test out his new purchase right away. Behind them, Jaskier can hear one of the other alphas doing just that with her new omega - can hear the omega girl’s quiet sobbing, the sickening wet sounds of the alpha’s movements. He doesn’t turn and look back. There’s no point; there’s nothing he can do, and at least his will be one pair of eyes that isn’t watching the girl’s pain and humiliation.

He watches the witcher’s shoulders instead, covered as they are in leather armor and the scabbards of two swords. They look...surprisingly tense, actually, like the witcher is deeply uncomfortable for some reason. The witcher leads the way to a stables on the outskirts of town, where he pays the young beta attendant a few coins before turning and gesturing for Jaskier to stay right where he is and vanishing into the building.

Jaskier could run, right now. He could just turn and flee into the town’s alleys, and from there…

Well, from there he could either be caught by an angry witcher and earn himself a truly unpleasant beating, or end up selling himself on the streets until winter comes and he has to either find a place in a brothel or freeze to death, or he could just end up on the auction block again, but this time with a brand on one shoulder to show he’s a flight risk, and shackles on his wrists instead of rope.

He stays where the witcher left him.

After a few minutes, the witcher emerges leading a handsome chestnut mare. He seems...faintly pleased to see Jaskier waiting obediently. Very faintly. Actually, Jaskier might be making that up. The witcher’s face seems to be made of marble; if he moves his mouth, maybe his cheeks will crack. Maybe witchers are actually carved from stone and given life by some strange alchemy. Though in that case, Jaskier has no idea why their creators would have bothered to give them dynamics, and the witcher is definitely an alpha; his scent is very, very strong. Not unpleasant, actually - Jaskier has smelled a lot of alphas, and most of them are rank and overpowering, but the witcher’s scent, surprisingly, is rich and warm like a hot stew at the end of a cold day - but still, very strong.

The witcher swings up onto his horse, not bothering with anything so petty as a mounting block, and then holds out a hand to Jaskier. Jaskier approaches warily and raises one hand, wondering if that’s what the witcher wants. Apparently it is. The witcher grabs his wrist and then holds out a foot as if to make a step. Jaskier swallows hard, just barely manages to get his foot high enough to rest atop the witcher’s boot - he would rather like a mounting block, honestly - and finds himself lifted effortlessly into the air.

He swings his other leg hastily over the horse’s haunches, and finds himself perched behind the witcher, rather uncomfortably wedged on the back of the saddle. The witcher makes an approving sort of humming sound and brings Jaskier’s arm around his waist, patting it gently as if to say Stay put, and then nudges the horse into motion. Tentatively, Jaskier brings his other hand around, clasping his fingers together, and earns himself another approving hum.

The horse makes her way out of the town and on down the eastern road, apparently unconcerned by anything going on atop her back. The witcher rides in perfect silence. Jaskier wiggles a little to get slightly more comfortable and wonders what the hell is going on.

*

By the time they finally stop for the night, Jaskier is very sore - he hasn’t ridden a horse in years, and sitting on the back of the saddle certainly doesn’t help at all - and very confused. This is the longest it has ever taken an alpha to get around to using him after buying him, and the witcher doesn’t even smell like lust - or at least not yet. Jaskier has just about decided that the witcher must want to do something so dreadful that even other alphas would find it appalling, and is therefore bringing Jaskier well outside of civilization to do it, and that Jaskier would have been better off if he’d run like hell when he had the opportunity, when the witcher turns the horse off the road and onto a tiny goat-track of a trail, which winds its way into the trees until Jaskier has thoroughly lost sight of the road and any possible landmarks. Any burgeoning ideas about slipping off the horse and fleeing vanish at once; Jaskier would probably just fall into a thornbush and get stuck immediately.

Finally the goat-track ends in a clearing, and Jaskier looks up in deepening alarm to see that there are two more witchers waiting there.

Jaskier’s witcher - the one who bought him - is pale as alabaster, with white hair and scars faded to silvery lines all over his moon-white skin, at least the few bits of it Jaskier can see. He’s a big man, at least an inch taller than Jaskier, with broad shoulders and more muscles than anyone really needs. The other two witchers are also large, broad-shouldered, muscular men, but otherwise as different as chalk and cheese. The nearer of them is brown-haired and brown-skinned and burly, and bears a set of facial scars that make him look like something out of a horror story, carving his cheek and curving his lips into a permanent snarl; he’s possibly even bulkier than the pale one who bought Jaskier. The third is shorter and slighter, possibly a few inches shorter than Jaskier - which is never good, alphas hate being shorter than omegas - with black hair that dips into a pronounced widow’s peak, skin somewhere between the scarred one’s brown and the pale one’s moon-white, and an expression of smirking amusement. They both have unsettling golden, slitted eyes.

“Well, Wolf, what did you find?” the scarred one asks, coming forward and offering Jaskier a hand. Jaskier swallows. Does he take it? Will that anger the pale one - Wolf, apparently, and isn’t that a worrisome name?

Apparently Jaskier hesitates too long, because the scarred witcher steps a little closer and reaches out with both hands to pick Jaskier up, plucking him off the horse without any evident effort and setting him down on his feet. The dark-haired one comes crowding in immediately, and Jaskier finds himself sandwiched between them and the horse, the pale witcher looking down at them all with an unreadable expression. Jaskier braces himself for whatever pain is about to occur.

But all that happens is that both new witchers lean in and sniff at his throat, deep dragging sniffs like they’re trying to get his scent all the way into their lungs. After a long moment, they lean back again.

“Well, alright, pretty boy,” the dark-haired one drawls. “I guess he’ll do.”

That’s either a good thing or a really, really bad one, and Jaskier knows what he’s putting his money on - or would if he had any money, or anything else worth using to place a bet, anyhow.

He is a bit surprised, though, that both other witchers also have astonishingly pleasant scents, neither as strong as the pale witcher’s but both much stronger than most alphas’ are. The scarred witcher smells like woodsmoke and moss and roasting chestnuts; the dark-haired one smells of apples, of all things, apples and spiced rum. Together, the three of them smell like a warm hearth at the end of a cold autumn day, comforting and safe. It’s an odd set of scents for a trio of witchers.

“Hm,” says the pale witcher - Wolf? His name can’t be ‘pretty boy,’ but the dark-haired witcher didn’t seem to be addressing that remark to Jaskier. He swings down off his horse and leads her away to untack her, stroking her neck gently, leaving Jaskier standing uncertainly between the two other witchers.

He really needs to stop thinking his day has gotten as bad as it’s going to get; it keeps getting worse.

The witchers regard him thoughtfully for a long moment, and then the scarred one says, “Wolf? Did you actually explain anything to him?”

“No,” Wolf says, not looking up from grooming his horse.

The scarred witcher sighs deeply and rubs his forehead in obvious exasperation. “You’ll have to excuse Geralt,” he says to Jaskier, quite conversationally. “We think he was dropped on his head as a child and knocked all his manners out.” He pauses, glances at the dark-haired witcher, and adds, “As opposed to Lambert, who never had any to begin with.”

“Hey,” the dark-haired witcher - Lambert? - says, scowling. “I’ve got manners.”

Jaskier is very, very confused.

“Being able to insult people in eight languages is not the same thing as having manners,” the scarred witcher sighs.

“Nine,” says the dark-haired witcher.

“What?”

Nine languages. I’ve learned how to say ‘your bearer fucked a camel’ in Zerrikanian.”

“Where did you even - never mind. Nine languages. Still not manners.”

“Sure they are,” Lambert says, and grins, showing a lot of very white teeth and some very sharp alpha canines. “Bad manners.”

The scarred witcher gives the strong impression of a man who desperately needs a drink. In other circumstances, Jaskier might have giggled at the sheer absurdity of the entire conversation; as it is, he stands there frozen, too confused and terrified to do anything at all. “Anyhow,” the scarred witcher says to Jaskier, “I apologize in advance for my pack-brothers, who are mannerless barbarians. I’m Eskel. What’s your name?”

That’s as shocking and baffling as everything else on this bizarre day has been. Alphas don’t ask for omegas’ names; all of Jaskier’s previous alphas have given him new names - new epithets, to be more accurate - as soon as they laid claim to him. He’s been ‘Slut’ and ‘Useless Whore’ and once, memorably, ‘Dogshit.’

But the witchers are watching him expectantly, so Jaskier licks his lips and says, hoping his voice won’t crack from fear, “I’m called Jaskier, alpha, if it pleases you.”

“Just ‘Eskel’ is fine,” the witcher says. “It’ll get a bit confusing if you’re calling us all ‘alpha’ all the time. This rapscallion is Lambert, and the quiet one is Geralt.”

“Rapscallion?” Lambert says indignantly. “Oh come on, I’m at least a ruffian! Maybe even a rogue!”

“You’re a scamp is what you are,” Eskel retorts, and Lambert squawks with affront. Jaskier has no idea what is going on. Alphas - well, alphas don’t jest with each other like this, especially not when there’s an omega around. Alphas posture and challenge and pretend they don’t want to kill each other, with varying levels of success at the pretense. But Jaskier can’t smell any anger; even Lambert isn’t truly annoyed, just faking it for the amusement of himself and his...pack-brothers?

“You look half-dead, Jaskier,” Eskel adds, looking Jaskier up and down. “Come and sit by the fire. Lambert, see if we’ve got a spare tunic that’ll fit him? And pants, too. And we’ll have to stop and get boots the next time we reach a decent sized town, Geralt.”

“Hm,” Geralt says, and Eskel ushers Jaskier over to the fire in the center of the clearing and gestures for him to sit on one of the logs pulled up to act as makeshift chairs. Jaskier wonders briefly if he ought to bend over the log to give the alphas easier access, but Eskel said sit, so Jaskier sits. A moment later, a wad of cloth lands in his lap, and he picks it up to discover it’s a tunic - one of Geralt’s by the rich, warm smell. It’s in far better shape than his own battered shirt, which is good only for rags, and not many rags at that.

“Well, put it on then,” Lambert says as he settles onto one of the other logs, and Jaskier shoots a quick look at Geralt, who is unreadable as ever, and strips out of his shirt, shrugging into the tunic with a soft sigh. It’s a little large, though not too much, and quite soft, and very warm.

And then he looks up to see all three witchers looking extremely pleased, even Geralt.

Jaskier shrinks in on himself a little, wondering what he’s just opened himself up to. Was this an excuse of some sort - do they need to delude themselves that now he owes them something because they gave him something, instead of admitting that they own him and can do anything they like anyhow? Or - or -

Eskel leans forward and ladles a bowlful of thick stew out of the pot bubbling gently over the fire, plucks a spoon from his belt-pouch, and hands both to Jaskier. “Eat,” he urges. “You can’t have had a decent meal in a while; I could see your ribs.”

Jaskier swallows hard. He hasn’t eaten well in...years, really. Most alphas don’t care to give their ruined omegas anything better than table scraps. And the stew smells good, turnips and carrots and venison, a rich thick broth that’s going to feel like heaven in his mouth. And Eskel said to eat. Tentatively, Jaskier takes a spoonful. It’s the best thing he’s eaten in years, and he can’t help the soft moan that rises from his throat. He stifles the noise as soon as he realizes he’s making it, and darts a glance up at the witchers, who are all watching him avidly. That’s...probably very bad.

But he’s far, far too hungry to stop eating without a direct order. He finishes the bowl - it was only about half full, which is honestly a good thing, since he would have kept eating until he was sick given the opportunity, he’s pretty sure - and Lambert hands him a waterskin. The water is cool and clean, and Jaskier drinks deep before he hands it back.

Then he settles his hands in his lap and looks at his owners - because by this point it’s pretty clear they’re all his alphas now, as frankly impossible as that seems.

“Right,” Eskel says. “So I’m guessing you’re a bit confused.”

Jaskier nods. ‘A bit confused’ is a severe understatement, but it’s accurate enough.

“We’re Wolf witchers,” Eskel says, tapping the silver medallion at his throat. The other two witchers are wearing identical medallions, all of them embossed with a snarling wolf’s head. “We’re a bit...different from human alphas. We work in a pack.” He grimaces. “I’m sorry, I’ve never tried to actually explain this before.”

“Hm,” Geralt says, and Eskel sighs.

“Yes, yes, alright, I shouldn’t have gotten on your case, it’s harder than it sounds.”

How he got that out of hm Jaskier has no idea.

“Our omega died last year,” Lambert says bluntly. “We can do without one, but it puts the whole fucking pack off kilter. We’ve been looking for one for months. Pretty boy brought you back, so he must think you’d suit.”

“You smell right,” Geralt says, the first full sentence Jaskier’s heard him utter.

“I do?” Jaskier squeaks.

Geralt nods. “Cinnamon and citrus,” he says, like that explains everything.

“It...goes,” Eskel says, gesturing like he can’t quite find the words. “Like - did you notice our scents all sort of mesh?”

Jaskier nods. “You smell like - like a warm hearth after a cold day,” he ventures.

“Yep,” Lambert says. “And you match.”

Jaskier’s scent has always been too sharp for most alphas, too lacking in omega sweetness. It’s part of why he’s been sold and re-sold so often; even his heat scent has never been appealing to any of his alphas. He’s not sure if he’s more terrified or oddly flattered that the witchers seem to like his scent.

“How did your omega die?” he asks hesitantly.

“Idiot tried to take on a kikimora queen without us,” Lambert grumbles. “Asshole idiot bastard.”

“He was also a witcher,” Eskel says. “We do not expect you to fight monsters. Actually, we’d prefer you stay far away from any fights.”

That sounds awfully like they’re planning on keeping him alive. But if their last omega was a witcher - Jaskier had no idea there even were omega witchers - they may well not understand how fragile a mere human is, compared to witcher strength. They could easily break him without meaning to.

On the other hand, to Jaskier’s continuing blank astonishment, the inhuman monster-killers have already been orders of magnitude kinder than any other alphas Jaskier has had. He’s wearing a warm tunic, he’s got a warm meal in his stomach, no one has put any bruises on him yet, he hasn’t been turned over a log or a saddle or a convenient bit of wall and fucked bloody, he’s been asked his own name - honestly, as far as first days with new alphas go, this one is the best Jaskier has ever had. Which is just sad, but that’s life, isn’t it now.

Jaskier’s a damned fool, and his insolence is going to surface again, probably as soon as he’s slept and gotten over a bit of the blinding terror that’s been consuming him most of the day, but for now - for now he can try to be the sort of omega these witchers want, can’t he? Can pretend, for an evening, that he might actually survive this. That he might be something more than a convenient fucktoy, to be used and discarded at his alpha’s pleasure.

“What do you expect of your omega, then?” he asks, trying to sound eager. He’s not sure how well he does.

To his surprise, the three witchers glance at each other almost hesitantly. It’s Lambert who finally says, “Just...be there.”

“Let us hold you,” Eskel adds. “Let us smell you.”

“Sleep beside us,” Geralt says. Which - which almost certainly isn’t a euphemism for fucking, Jaskier thinks. Nobody says ‘sleep beside us’ when they mean ‘be fucked anytime we feel like it.’

Eskel nods. “Everything else can be negotiated later,” he says firmly. “You look ready to fall over in a light breeze, and we - well, we all could use a night holding an omega.”

Lambert growls something that sounds like agreement. Geralt hums. Jaskier takes a deep breath. “Alright,” he says, willing himself to sound cheerful and unafraid. “Where do you want me?”

*

He ends up lying in the middle of a sort of nest of bedrolls, with Eskel on one side of him and Lambert on the other and Geralt wrapped around Lambert, one of Geralt’s big hands tangled with Eskel’s atop Jaskier’s chest. All three witchers keep taking deep breaths like they can’t get enough of Jaskier’s scent, and they’re all wearing clothes, and no one has so much as touched Jaskier beneath his Geralt-scented tunic.

It’s...surprisingly comfortable, actually.

He’s surrounded by alphas, but none of them are acting like alphas. No posturing, no growling, no hitting, no grabbing, no pain at all. They cuddle like - like puppies, almost.

Like wolf cubs, he supposes.

And something about being surrounded by alphas like this, being held so...so tenderly, is the word that comes to mind, something about that is making every instinct Jaskier has sit up and purr. He doesn’t know quite where it’s coming from, but he feels downright safe, even though by rights he should be terrified out of his mind. An omega between three alphas in the normal course of things has a decent chance of being mauled just as collateral damage as they try to kill each other.

These alphas, though, are definitely not trying to kill each other. It’s deeply, deeply weird.

He falls asleep without meaning to.

He wakes up warm - almost a little over-warm, actually - and still dressed, with Lambert sprawled half across his chest, drooling a little on the tunic, and Geralt and Eskel both snuggled up so tightly around the two of them that Jaskier’s not sure you could slide a piece of parchment between their bodies. It should be the sort of moment that makes Jaskier panic, but every breath he takes smells like warm-hearth-on-a-cold-day, and Lambert is purring deep in his chest, a low sound Jaskier’s never heard before, and honestly that was the best night’s sleep he’s had in years.

This is the longest Jaskier has spent around an alpha without being fucked since he was first sold. He’s not quite sure what to make of that.

Geralt wakes first, uncoiling himself from around Lambert and Jaskier with slow and gentle movements like he doesn’t want to rouse them. He meets Jaskier’s eyes and nods solemnly, and then goes over to stoke up the fire and start a pot of water heating over it, moving around the camp near-silently. It’s rather disconcerting to watch someone so large move so quietly.

Eskel wakes second, and lies there taking deep breaths for a long moment before he rolls easily to his feet. Lambert makes a cranky sort of noise and curls tighter around Jaskier, and Eskel looks down at both of them with what Jaskier rather thinks is a wry smile and shakes his head a little and goes to help Geralt tend the horses: Geralt’s handsome mare, an enormous black stallion, and a truly nondescript dun gelding.

Lambert wakes up about when Jaskier is starting to think he really needs to go and find a convenient bush to piss behind. He shoves himself up on one hand, blinking down at Jaskier, and then leans down and sniffs hard at Jaskier’s throat before bouncing to his feet and offering Jaskier a hand up. Jaskier takes it and is hauled effortlessly upright. How strong are witchers, anyhow?

None of them talk - clearly, none of them need to, the camp chores obviously a familiar routine. Jaskier escapes behind a bush for a few minutes and emerges to be greeted with a bowl of oat porridge - with dried fruit cooked into it and a drizzle of honey atop, no less - and Geralt pointing him at a spot on a log where he’ll be out of the way of the bustle of packing up the camp. The porridge is hot and filling and a little sweet, and Jaskier’s stomach is full for the second time in twelve hours, which may be the first time that’s happened in...oh, five or six years now.

Geralt lifts him up onto the stallion behind Eskel once they’re all packed and Jaskier has finished his breakfast, and Lambert on the dun gelding leads the way out of the clearing along the goat-track, and Jaskier hangs on to Eskel’s waist and wonders if this is all a baffling dream.

They head east again, away from the town where Jaskier was sold at auction, and none of them talk, and after a while Jaskier, lulled by the stallion’s easy pace and Eskel’s warmth, begins to hum.

He knows better. He really does. None of his alphas have ever liked it when he hums or - gods forbid - sings. Omegas are to be silent unless told to speak, after all, or when they’re being fucked or beaten so hard they can’t keep their cries in. But he’s warm - hell, they gave him new trousers, Lambert’s so they’re a little short in the leg but a league better than the scraps he was wearing, and a pair of thick socks that have his feet so warm he barely even misses having boots - and he’s full of pretty damn good food, and he doesn’t hurt more than a few hours of riding a horse can explain, and he spent the night wrapped up in the arms of three alphas who somehow, impossibly, smell like home and feel like safety.

So he hums, a little bouncy tune that sort of goes in time with the clopping of the stallion’s hooves, and he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it until Eskel says, “Oh! That’s you.”

Jaskier falls silent instantly, biting his lip nearly hard enough to bleed. Fuck.

“Well, don’t stop,” Lambert grumbles. “‘S nice to have something to listen to that isn’t the wind whistling through these idiots’ ears.”

“Good tune,” Geralt agrees, to Jaskier’s blank shock. “Got words?”

“Uh,” Jaskier says. “I...hadn’t come up with any?”

“You made that up?” Eskel asks, slewing around a bit so he can look at Jaskier over his shoulder. “Impressive! Don’t stop on my account - I was just surprised, is all.”

Don’t stop. Jaskier has literally never, in all his life, been told to keep making noise. Well, aside from various alphas hissing ‘Scream louder, slut,’ as they fucked him bloody, which does not count at all as far as Jaskier is concerned.

He swallows hard and begins, rather tentatively, to hum again. Eskel nods like he’s pleased, and Lambert begins waving one hand in the air like he’s conducting an invisible orchestra, and Geralt has a tiny, hair-thin smile on his unreadable face, so Jaskier hums a little louder, and when that’s greeted with nothing but Lambert’s enthusiastic conducting, a little louder again, and then he throws all caution to the wind and begins to sing, wordless notes that dance around the horses’ hooves and skirl through the air. Lambert whoops in approval, and Geralt actually bares his teeth in a grin - his canines are just as sharp as Lambert’s - and Eskel begins tapping his fingers on the pommel of the saddle in time with the beat.

Jaskier kind of feels like he might cry out of sheer happiness. Even if this moment is as fleeting as a song - even if tonight the witchers decide that it’s been long enough to play at indulging their new omega - even if he dies for this, it’s worth it, this glorious moment, surrounded by music and the smell of a warm hearth at the end of a long cold day.

*

They only stop briefly for luncheon, which is dried meat and hard biscuits and a little dried fruit, but Jaskier can’t complain; it’s still a lot better than what he got in the slave caravan or from any of his previous alphas, and they’re all eating the same thing, so it’s not as though he’s only getting their leavings the way alphas usually feed their ruined omegas. And in the afternoon, Lambert asks if he knows The Passionate Shepherd, which Jaskier does, and when he’s sung that, Eskel asks if he knows The Lament of the Lady of Shalott, and then Lambert wants Maid Marian and Her Robin - the bawdy version specifically - and then Eskel wants The Faerie Queen and the Ass, and then Geralt expresses a desire for an old folksong that Jaskier has to dredge out of the very depths of his memory, Sir Roland and the Sword, and by the time Jaskier’s finished singing that, it’s nearly dark.

And he’s spent the whole afternoon singing, to his alphas’ clear delight.

He’s never been allowed to spend an afternoon singing before.

They make camp in another clearing well away from the main road, and Jaskier is sat firmly on a convenient stump and told not to worry about trying to help, which he’d object to more except that he is quite sore, actually, the stallion having a rather broader back than the mare does, and also his extremely battered shoes aren’t much good for traipsing around in the woods. So he sits quietly and watches the easy grace of his alphas setting up camp: laying out a nest of bedrolls, digging a latrine off in the bushes a ways, feeding and watering and picketing the horses, building a fire - using a hand-sign that creates fire, which is terrifying and amazing in roughly equal measure - and setting a pot of water to heat before dumping the contents of a cloth ball into the water; the water instantly starts smelling like soup.

It is soup, in fact, good rich broth full of barley and carrot and turnip and little scraps of what might be beef, and Jaskier is going to go to sleep for two nights in a row with his stomach full of warm food and no bruises at all, which is, frankly, almost unbelievable.

He lies down in the middle of the bedroll-nest without any hesitation, and doesn’t even tense up when Eskel and Lambert curl around him. Geralt sits down on Lambert’s other side and regards the three of them with what sure looks, in the flickering firelight, like a deeply satisfied expression. “You fit,” he says smugly. “Thought you would.”

“Yes, yes, you’re the fastest and strongest and cleverest witcher in the world, now shut up and let me sleep,” Lambert grumbles against the side of Jaskier’s throat.

Eskel chuckles. “You heard the little wolf,” he says, and Lambert growls a little. Jaskier tenses - growling is never a good sign - but Eskel is still chuckling and Geralt is smiling and all Lambert does is cuddle Jaskier a little closer and lift one hand to swipe utterly ineffectively at Eskel’s shoulder.

“Bastard,” he grumbles. “‘M not little.”

“Always be littler than me,” Eskel teases. “But you’re faster, so I suppose everything evens out in the end.”

“Hmph,” Lambert snorts. “Asshole. Shut up already.” But there’s no real anger in his scent, no hint that he’s more than very mildly annoyed, and he’s still cuddling Jaskier like he never wants to let go. Eskel shakes his head a little and lifts one hand to make that strange gesture at the fire, which obligingly goes out; Geralt curls himself around Lambert, reaching around to rest his hand on Jaskier’s chest again, and begins to rumble a low, soothing, utterly unexpected purr that reverberates through their whole tangled heap.

Jaskier falls asleep warm and confused and - bafflingly, impossibly - safe in a pile of purring alphas.